Monday, January 30, 2023 | Rajab 7, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Al Zajra System: an Example of a rich Heritage

A sample of al Zajra equipment is still preserved in Nizwa Fort that summarizes a long history of the Sultanate of Oman and the stories of Omanis. Zajra, which is the unique system of farm irrigation has been maintained since ancient times.
photo by Ahmed al Saidi
photo by Ahmed al Saidi

It was not the advanced tools and equipment that allowed old Omanis to excel in their daily life and routines. It was their continuous search for alternatives, maybe the simple ones, to make the life goes on smoothly. A simple example is al Zajra, an ancient unique whole system of extracting water from wells to irrigate farms.


A sample of al Zajra equipment is still preserved in Nizwa Fort that summarizes a long history of the Sultanate of Oman and the stories of Omanis. Zajra , which is the unique system of farm irrigation has been maintained since ancient times.


Al Zajira, as the administration of the Fort said, was used in the past to extract water from the well. The technique is pushed by the power of some animals like bulls or cows in order to irrigate agricultural lands.


Zayed Al Riyami, who uses this system in the Fort to revive heritage (since about 5 years), confirmed that it is an easy system and does not require high physical skills and abilities to deal with. "It requires the ability to tame a bull as well as knowledge of the components of the system," he said.


"The system consists of the well, the manjoor (wooden cogwheel that rotates around an axis that is called hatbat al manjoor), the fakha (the lower wheel in which the animal pulls the rope), Al Jar (rope), and the bucket," the fort's administration explained.


The water is extracted in two stages. The first stage, as the administration shared, started when the bucket is lowered to the bottom of the well to extract the water from the well to be discharged into the falaj, then the empty bucket is returned to the well.



The process continues back and forth with the help of the farmer to guide the bull to pull the rope. The process often continues until the plants are watered.


One of the challenges that this system faces, according to Suleiman Al-Shraiqi, who lives in Nizwa and has used this system in his farm for nearly 44 years, is the difficulty of finding wood used in the manufacture of Manjoor, "where we sometimes tend to repair the old manjoor and reuse them or make efforts to search for wood used to manufacture it."


He added that this system is facing the danger of extinction, as the number of workers is gradually decreasing by time.


"The system requires about 15-20 workers to build it, and it takes about 7 months to complete it, starting from digging the well to the completion of the whole system. The cost of the system, as well, is OMR 2000 due to the costly tools used in the manufacture in addition to the wages of the workers," he mentioned.


Some Omani villages still use the system to preserve the heritage. The team of the Aflaj Research Unit at the University of Nizwa organized a scientific trip to the Wilayat of Bahla (exactly in the village of Al-Khattwa) in order to document the heritage related to the Zajra system in the Sultanate.


The team found that, "The most important crops grown and benefiting from this system are lentils, wheat, and fenugreek. The study has found that the production of one Zajra (that include one manjoor and pulled by one animal only) is equivalent to 45 bags of lentils, and 30 bags of wheat (each bag weigh 40 Kg). The Zajra working with two majoors can produce up to 100 bags.


The duration of work in Al Zajra system in the past, according to the team’s results, extends from the period before dawn until the period of evening prayer, which is equivalent to 18 continuous hours per day, where two people extract water by using the Zajira system, while the third irrigate the farms. The three are rotated during the work.


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